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Quality assurance: Consistency, efficiency and productivity

Robert Milligan Published on 16 May 2011
The incredible turbulence we have faced and continue to face in the dairy industry serves notice for the need for management to go to a new, higher level. Albert Einstein’s admonition holds: “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”

I believe that for most dairy farms and agribusinesses, quality assurance is a key to achieving this new, higher level. Quality assurance, or QA, is a term common to business but not so common in agriculture.

You may have heard of the Baldrige Award given to firms that have achieved superior quality. Quality assurance is key in the Baldrige competition.

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The processes – feeding, herd health, milk quality – in place on most dairies are excellent; they should produce better results than are being achieved. The lower productivities usually result when those processes are not followed every time. It is likely a quality assurance problem.

We address this topic with three questions:
• What is quality assurance?
• Why is quality assurance important?
• What are some examples of quality assurance?

What is quality assurance?
Simply stated, quality assurance is assuring quality. In our personal and business lives, we all have excellent tasks, procedures and processes in place that are not executed correctly – as specified – every single time.

Quality assurance is assuring that tasks, procedures and processes are executed exactly as intended every time.

Quality assurance sounds simple. Let me assure you; it is not. We go to educational meetings, read materials, talk to our colleagues, study our records, hire consultants and build on our experiences in deciding what inputs to use, procedures to follow and, in general, make decisions to maximize or optimize productivity, efficiency and profitability.

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The resources available and these decisions establish an unknown but real maximum potential outcome. Any and every time these decisions are not implemented exactly as specified, performance will fall below that potential.

Let’s look at some examples:

1. Given our knowledge/expertise/skills and what needs to be accomplished in our position, each of us begins each day with an unknown but real potential for what we can accomplish – our potential.

Every time we lose time because we have not established proper priorities, work on a task someone else should be doing, or keep working when a break would increase productivity, we fall further behind our potential for that day. Time management and other tools to reach our potential are quality assurance.

2. Probably the most common example of quality assurance on dairy farms is proper milking procedure. We can, for example, look at this specifically in terms of somatic cell count (SCC).

Great effort is made to put together a detailed milking procedure. That procedure and the physical layout of the facility again determine that unknown but real potential – in this case, the level of the SCC.

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Each time that procedure is not followed exactly reduces the likelihood of reaching that potential, resulting in an increase in the SCC. The milking procedure is a great example of quality assurance.

Why is quality assurance important?
Quality assurance is needed to enable success. It is not something that is needed because people are stupid or unmotivated; it is needed to attain the excellence required to go to that new, next level of management.

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Let me share a personal example of quality assurance. I am an avid fan of the University of Minnesota women’s hockey team. For the last several years I have been responsible for receptions held after the games for members of the team’s fan club. I have had to plan these receptions three to four times a year.

Early on, I developed a checklist that I use for each reception. Did I develop the checklist because I don’t know what to do, am unmotivated or stupid? No!

I developed and use it for two reasons: to ensure that I don’t forget one or two of the many details and so I don’t have to waste time recalling everything and doubling back to do things I overlooked. The checklist is a quality assurance tool to enable me to have everything ready for every reception.

This is the most important message of this article: Quality assurance is necessary to enable ourselves and our employees to succeed.

What are some examples of quality assurance?
A key to reaching this new, higher level of management is to expand our concept of developing tasks, procedures and processes. In addition to specifying the task, procedure or process, each time we need to also explicitly design a quality assurance program to ensure the potential is reached.

In agriculture, we have too often referred to all quality assurance as developing SOPs (standard operating procedures). SOPs are needed for quality assurance in situations, like the milking procedure, where tasks must be completed in a specific sequence.

Where the sequence is not necessarily crucial, as in my reception checklist example, an SOP is not appropriate, as it overly controls the person completing the process, likely reducing motivation.

Checklists and to-do lists are two of the many additional tools for quality assurance. A checklist is best used for a list of tasks that must all be executed correctly to successfully complete an activity.

The order is not critical to the performance of the tasks or activity, but each must be completed each time the activity is performed. A to-do list is great for identifying tasks that need to be completed or as a repository for tasks to be completed when time is available. PD

PHOTO
Simply stated, quality assurance is assuring quality. In our personal and business lives, we all have excellent tasks, procedures and processes in place that are not executed correctly – as specified – every single time. Photo courtesy of University of Minnesota.
Robert A. Milligan

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